The Rise of Rath and the End of an Era?

Fri, 03/26/2010 - 00:00
2010 World Cup Finals

On Thursday afternoon the CDI Grand Prix was ridden at the 2010 CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch. The rides in this class and the final ranking was experienced by many as a key moment in dressage. It felt like the end of an era and the rise of a new star. But one immediately has to take two things into consideration: the tragedy of the fall and the fragility of the rising star.

Two weekends in a row, twenty-five year old German Matthias Rath has been able to beat the two dressage queens of the 1990s and 2000s, Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth on their number one Grand Prix horses. It could be serendipity or beginner's luck because both Werth and Van Grunsven are experienced combatants who fight tooth and nail. Even though the point difference was only one percent, the emotive and experiential effect of it was huge.

Rath saddled his stepmom Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff's Sterntaler Unicef (by Sion x Figaro) and was the first rider to go in the class. He started with perfectly square halts and expressive trot extensions. The half pass right could have been more fluent and Sterntaler was searching for the right rhythm in the first piaffe. The transitions to and from piaffe went well. The two tempi's were magnificent as they were ground covering and relaxed. Rath hadn't made mistakes until he came to his crucial point, the piaffe at X. When Rath started out on Sterntaler last year, the gelding used to resist at X, later on the German avoided the sore spot by riding fewer piaffe steps, but this time Rath persisted by insisting on a minimum of 12 steps at X even though Sterntaler was inclined to go forward. His clear ride earned him 73.659% to win the class.

Isabell Werth and Madeleine Winter-Schulze's 16-year old Satchmo finished second with 72.723%. The combination is working on its come back for German team qualification for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, but the road seems long after half a year break. Werth started out well with lovely trot extensions and half passes. In the extended walk, there could have been more reach from the shoulder and more overtrack. Minor imperfections crept into the ride and meddled with the harmonious picture. The first transition from extended trot to passage was abrupt and Isabell entered the diagonal for the two tempi's in a half pass left. After a major mistake in the one tempi's, Satchmo tensed up and his canter got shorter with each stride. The zig zag became staccato and not through the back. Werth recovered some points with a decent piaffe on the centerline even though Satchmo was trailing his hind legs in the passage throughout the test. The 16-year old gelding did not look as settled in his work as usual and performed as if his engine was sputtering, empty of fuel.

Edward Gal and Sisther de Jeu entered the ring looking on edge. Gal was flexing Emmy de Jeu's mare from left to right to get her through the neck and on the bit, but she seemed unwilling to accept it and had this numb, foamless mouth the entire ride. The halt was not square and behind the vertical, but Gal motivated his horse into showing off super trot extensions and bouncy piaffe. In passage the hind legs were not tracking up sufficiently. The ground cover in the extended walk was good, but the mare avoids proper back usage and stiffens her collected walk steps, which made the transition to passage hesitant. The one tempi's were very short, the two's were better. Gal remained cool and collected even though the mare seemed complicated to ride and not at her usual brilliant form. They finished third with 71.957%. One judge generously had him at 74.68% whereas the other four stayed between 70.5 and 72%.

German Carola Koppelmann and the 10-year old Hanoverian mare Rom (by Rotspon x Wolkenstein II) finished fourth with 71.021%. Trained by Jurgen Koschel, Koppelmann had a light, honest contact at all times even though the bay mare often got behind the vertical or curled herself up especially towards the end of the test. The young Grand Prix mare still needs to settle down in the rhythm in piaffe but has much elasticity and spring. The mare cannot maintain her self-carriage long enough and either gets crooked to the right or travels too much forward. The sympathetic bay has a natural uphill tendency and with her active motor behind she has the potential to improve much in the future.

Finishing in an unusual fifth place was Anky van Grunsven with her double Olympic gold medal winning horse Salinero. The nine-time World Cup winner did not qualify for the Finals this year and had to settle for the CDI tour at her home show Indoor Brabant. The 16-year old Hanoverian gelding was hot to trot and didn't not stand still in the halt upon entry. Tension was all over his body and the horse often had an open mouth slightly showing his tongue. There was was a break in the rhythm in the first trot extension, though the trot half passes were fantastic as the muscled power house covers enormous ground with his legs. The first passage was not enough forward even though Salinero energetically sprung off the ground. In the extended walk there were two hooves overtrack but the rhythm could have been clearer.

The transition to canter was hesitant and a mistake in the one tempi's was the first major sign of a ride gone sour. Anky normally can recover and compose herself, but this time it was a sad slide downhill with the rider leaning backwards into the reins. Both pirouettes broke down (loss of balance, loss of impulsion) and the final passage was irregular and too much on the spot.

The end halt was not immobile either and Anky pulled Salinero's head all the way to the left to make him stand still, which didn't work. It was an unusually tragic ride that earned them 70.510%, but in all fairness judge Rockwell seemed spot on with his 68.297%.

"Salinero totally surprised me," Anky wrote on her own website. "After Dortmund I didn't expect him to be so hot. [...] I already felt it in the warm up. I couldn't get Salinero focused on me and then mistakes happen."

Anky is the come back queen so never count her out! One can be sure she'll do her home work for the Grand Prix Special and be ready for some pay back time (as will Isabell). Let's delete this bad ride from the record and hopefully move on.

Text and photos © A.Appels/

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